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What is Oil Pulling?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 17, 2024
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Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic practice which has been adopted by some people in the West for its alleged health benefits. In the oil pulling procedure, someone takes a small amount of a neutral, unrefined oil and swishes it back and forth in the mouth for 20 minutes before rinsing well and drinking several glasses of water. If performed on a daily basis, oil pulling is supposed to promote oral health as well as general physical health, although skeptics have pointed out that oil pulling has not been supported by any controlled scientific studies.

According to adherents of oil pulling, the practice is supposed to pull toxins out of the body. They claim that as the oil is swished in the mouth, it removes toxins from the veins and gums, turning white and foamy. Of course, when oil is agitated or whipped in any conditions, it turns white and foamy, so the fact that oil turns to froth while someone engages in oil pulling is not terribly surprising.

This practice, also known as oil swishing, is supposed to be performed on an empty stomach, ideally in the morning. Some practitioners promote brushing the teeth after oil pulling, possibly to remove the slick texture of the oil, although the use of commercial toothpaste is not recommended. Drinking water after the procedure is also important, according to practitioners.

Critical analysis of the oil pulling technique would seem to suggest that it probably does not confer any health benefits, since simple friction with oil is not enough to pull unspecified toxins from the mucus membranes of the mouth. Some unrefined oils do have useful quantities of vitamins and minerals, and it is possible that some of these could be absorbed while oil pulling, possibly contributing to general health, but eating a balanced diet could confer the same benefits. The practice does not seem to be particularly harmful, leading some skeptics of alternative medicine to conclude that specifically advising against oil pulling is not necessary. People may want to consider getting routine dental care in addition to practicing oil pulling to ensure that they are getting the best possible oral care, however.

Oils are very popular in Ayurvedic medicine, and numerous Ayurvedic treatments involve the application of oil. Classically, the oil must be balanced to the dosha or body type of the patient for the best benefits, and it is curious that descriptions of oil pulling do not specify a particular type of oil, beyond an unrefined, cold-pressed oil.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon34887 — On Jun 30, 2009

you say that there are no benefits,but you say that you get some vitamins and minerals.does it lead to weight gain?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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